Craig Kimbrel’s bloated save costs Dodgers four-game sweep of Padres

Los Angeles, CA, Sunday, July 3, 2022 - San Diego Padres rightfielder Jose Azocar (28) is tagged out by Los Angeles Dodgers-catcher Austin Barnes (15) on a fielder's choice grounder hit by Manny Machado in the third inning at Dodger Stadium.  (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Rightfielder José Azocar of San Diego Padres is tagged out by Dodgers-catcher Austin Barnes on a fielder’s choice grounder hit by Manny Machado in Sunday’s third inning at Dodger Stadium. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

There was a comeback, then a backbreaker.

Thirty-five innings of lifeless baseball from the San Diego Padres lineup this weekend, then an unfortunate inning from the Dodgers bullpen on Sunday afternoon.

the evaders may have won the four-game series against their division rivals, but they still squandered an opportunity for what could have been a massive midseason sweep Sunday, blowing a late lead in the weekend finals to loss 4-2 for 42,633 at Dodger Stadium.

Craig Kimbrel gave up the deciding runs and blew his third save out of the last seven chances after Jake Cronenworth reached on a line drive that backed Kimbrel, Luke Voit tying double from the top of the wall to the left and Eric Hosmer hit a go -ahead single in right.

Dodgers relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel comes to rest after being hit by a line drive.

Dodgers relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel comes to rest after he was lined out in the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium against the San Diego Padres on Sunday. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Yency Almonte gave up a two-run homerun to Ha-Seong Kim later in the inning, after Kimbrel left the game next to a trainer.

The Dodgers then failed in a last comeback attempt, bringing the tying run at the plate twice in the last two at bats of the game, but failed to take advantage of a day when they stranded 11 men on base.

“Unfortunately,” said manager Dave Roberts, “we ended up not being able to store them there.”

When Kimbrel emerged at the start of the ninth inning, the Dodgers (49-29) were leading 1-0 and on the eve of an almost flawless weekend.

They had defeated the Padres (47-34) in the first three games, marking the long-sought divorce in the National League West standings

Their lineup had regained Mookie Betts, who returned with a bang from a rib injury on Sunday by going two for three with two walks and two runs scored.

And their pitching staff had been dominant, limiting the Padres to four runs in the first three games – then shutting them out for the first eight innings on Sunday behind a seven-inning gem by Clayton Kershaw.

But then the game changed on a 100.5 mph line ride that hit Kimbrel square in the back.

Kimbrel fielded the ball, but not in time to eliminate Cronenworth at first base. Kimbrel crouched in pain for a moment before resurfacing, throwing a few practice fields for a trainer and staying in the game.

“It was thought [to taking him out]’ said Roberts. “But when a guy like that says he’s ready to go and throws some pitches, we liked what we saw.”

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium.

Dodgers-pitcher Clayton Kershaw threw seven shutout-innings against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium on Sunday. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The good feeling wouldn’t last.

In the next at bat, Voit launched a moonshot to the left that landed on the top of the wall in front of the Dodgers’ bullpen, bounced off outfielder Gavin Lux with an unusual side carom and enabled Cronenworth to race home and score.

Hosmer then delivered a gut punch, bringing an RBI-single into rightfield, giving the Padres their first lead since the first inning of Thursday’s series-opening game.

Kimbrel failed to throw another pitch and stepped out next to a trainer when Almonte was called out of the bullpen.

Afterwards, Roberts said scans on Kimbrel’s back were clean, but the right-hander wouldn’t be available for the next few days.

As for Kimbrel’s role as closer, Roberts said he is “not even considering a change” despite a recent 15-game run in which Kimbrel posted a 6.28 ERA.

“I think he deserved it,” Roberts said, adding that given the other injuries in the bullpen, keeping Kimbrel in the ninth inning “is still pretty easy.”

The Dodgers also viewed this weekend as positive.

They extended their division lead from 1 games to 3 ½ games.

Their four starting pitchers gave up three runs in 24 ⅔ innings.

And they got their lineup back to full strength, with a new batting order Sunday in which Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman finished second and third respectively for the first time this season, behind Betts in the leadoff spot.

“I thought today turned out pretty good,” said Turner, hitting three to four with an RBI.

The only problem:

“Just didn’t win,” said Turner, adding: “We let one slip today, but for the most part we took care of business. It is what it is. It’s a good team there too. It’s not like we were just giving games away. They kept competing and clawing back at it.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times

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